Moral molecule theory: what is it and how does it explain morality?

The Theory of Moral Molecules seeks to define morality and to give a more neuroscientific view of the concept of morality, moving it away from the religious determination with which it has been commonly associated and allowing it to be approached from scientific research. .

In this article we will talk about Scott Curry’s Theory of Moral Molecules and what it offers.

    What do we mean by morality?

    We mean by morality the willingness to cooperate by acting together to achieve common goals. This concept is of great relevance in our society, because human beings live together, share the same space and time and it is important that we cooperate and respect each other so that we can all live well, prosper and develop in as a species. In this way, morality would indicate that behaviors are appropriate, how we should behave, how to maintain peace and the common good.

    In order to achieve the common good, moral rules were proposed to act in cooperation and to be able to evaluate the conduct of others, whether it is appropriate or not. Although these norms are related to social learning, there may also be an individual influence specific to each individual, and show a link with genetics, such as instinctive behavior.

      game theory

      Game theory shows a relationship with the consideration of morality as a cooperative process. Given the game situation, two ways of acting can be envisaged, one that seeks to win oneself and make the other lose, and the other that seeks cooperation, joint action, to achieve a common benefit, which both earn.

      Concerning the first situation, where we see that the victory of one of the subjects means the loss of the other individual, we call it zero sum. One could consider this case as immoral, because it does not seek to cooperate between the two but to be above the other person.

      On the other hand, in the second situation, where both subjects try to win, moral consideration is perceived, through cooperation, both participants try to win, without being able to tell the difference between winning and losing. In addition, the game mode that allows both participants to win is multiple, that is to say there is no single way to benefit both subjectsbut we can suggest different ways of acting.

      What is the Molecular Theory of Morality?

      If we consider the definition of morality, we will say that a person acts morally if he tries to cooperate with other people. Instead, we will say that he is immoral if he acts selfishly, keeping in mind only his own benefit and well-being.

      We must understand morality as a dimension, that is, we do not consider whether a subject is moral or not, but we value the different degree of morality he shows or the different type of morality.

      The Molecular Theory of Morality proposes the existence of different molecules that would explain the appearance of morality or the type of morality, according to the combinations that occur between the different molecules. Let’s see which molecules related to morality propose Scott Curry, author of this theory.

      1. Family love

      One of the factors to consider a subject as morally good is to value his relationship with his family., how he behaves with them and if he feels esteem. In this way, we tend to favor people who are familiar, with whom we share genes.

      2. I respect authority

      Respect for authority is understood as respect for superiors. It is common for individuals in a society to be placed in hierarchies, both more explicit hierarchies such as positions or workplaces and more implicit hierarchies such as the elderly, who are more older than themselves. The idea that the elderly should be respected is well known at the social level.

      3. Loyalty to the group

      A key element of cooperation is to be loyal to others, to the group, to work together, for the good of all. To act morally is to Prioritize group benefits over own.

        4. Reciprocity

        For two or more subjects to cooperate, it is necessary that both work to achieve such a goal, that is, both try to act together and in a related way to achieve the common goal. We could describe it as a parallel but related behavior; both act at the same level, we do not distinguish a leader or someone who contributes more to the relationshipthey do the same.

        5. Courageous

        Acting with courage and bravery are two traits related to upholding morality, as sometimes the easiest option can be to behave selfishly with no regard for other subjects. You have to show a fighting spirit.

        6. Justice

        Acting fairly is also a component of morality. In this way, we will not evaluate behaviors as they benefit us and suit us, but as long as they are right, we will act fairly according to established social norms.

        7. Respect for the property of others

        In the same way that we must be respectful of others, we must also strive for their property, that is, not to take advantage of their property, but to respect what is theirs and not to try to obtain one. part. In other words, it is not proper to steal and therefore you should not engage in such conduct.

        Combinations in morals

        The molecular theory of morality states that there will be different types of morality according to different types of cooperation, also taking into account the different cultures, because they place a different value on cooperation and will therefore exhibit different moral standards. We see then how we will not only speak of different morality according to the molecule which forms it but according to the combination of molecules which is realized. In other words, the above elements such as love of family or respect for authority can be linked to give rise to moral standards that: we should respect our parents and grandparents, our older parents.

        The combinations not only allow the union of two terms but of multiples, even linking the 7 elements, giving a total of 127 possible combinations. Some of these junctions are not yet described, in order to be able to identify them a periodic table has been created similar to the table of chemical elements, but to locate the moral molecules. In this way, it is expected that different cultures participate in giving rise to a model of morality throughout the world.

        This theory of morality breaks with the importance given to religion, seeks to define the concept and offers a neuroscientific study of morality. It is common in different cultures where different religions are present to question morality as a mandate from God as well-established rules and laws, which you must follow if you want to be a good believer. It will be a question of modifying the religious determination and of proposing a conception of morality as a social construction, of the group, that is to say that rules are established which must be fulfilled in a group, giving priority to this norm rather than individuality. interests or will. In this way, we try to set rules that allow us to live in harmony.

        Morality is important for the optimal functioning of society, that is, for being able to live in community. We need regulations that say it is assessed as positive or good and we assess it as negative. We acquire these moral standards from an early age and we gradually integrate them as our own.. We could value morality as an unspoken rule, which people already take for granted, understanding them as fundamental laws.

        As we have already seen, each culture will show a distinction in the type of morality, giving rise to different types of combinations, although in short we observe the 7 basic elements universally in different social groups. We therefore consider that there are basic rules for society to function, despite the observation of amoral behaviors, which break the commitment to cooperation and demonstrate the most selfish tendency that the human being can exhibit.

        Bibliographic references

        • Curry, OS, Alfano, MR, Pelican, C. and Bradnt, M. (2021) Moral Molecules: Morality as a Combinatorial System. Journal of Philosophy and Psychology.
        • Resnik, D. (2018) Moral Theory. The ethics of research with human subjects.
        • Molina, N. (2013) Morality: innate or acquired? Colombian Journal of Bioethics.

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